As of January 2020, there are nearly 1 billion monthly active users on Instagram. And out of that 1 billion, nearly 500 million of them use Instagram daily.
Regardless of what you sell, there is a high probability that your target customers are active on Instagram.
And with the way Instagram’s algorithm is set up, it’s never too late to get it right and build a strong presence for your brand, no matter how competitive your niche is.
All you need to do is understand how this algorithm works and make it work for you.
Like search engines, Instagram has an algorithm that determines who sees your content and who doesn’t. This algorithm uses specific signals to determine the order of the posts that users see when scrolling through their feed.
It gives more visibility to relevant posts, pushing them towards the top, and places other content further down the user’s feed.
So, If you’re struggling right now to nail your Instagram marketing strategy, or you’re a newbie just trying to get it right the first time, this article will help you:
- Grow your following
- Reach more people
- Drive traffic to your website
- And boost sales
And because I don’t want you scrolling around, hoping to find a point you’re looking for. I organized them into a few different categories.
Click to jump to a specific section:
- Creating Highly Valuable and Targeted content.
- Improving your visuals.
- Having a consistent visual presence.
- Trying out Instagram’s different Post Formats.
- Engaging your audience.
- Optimizing your Instagram Bio.
- Getting noticed by your niche leaders.
- Using Instagram consistently and Posting at the right time.
- Using relevant hashtags
- Avoiding action blocks and shadowbans.
How does Instagram’s Algorithm work?
Instagram has said that their goal is to be the best place for users to share and connect with the people and interests that matter most to them. This way, users will keep coming back and spend more time on the app.
Instagram’s algorithm is built around the user and relies on three primary ranking signals.
- User relationships – Instagram Users are more likely to see posts from accounts that they have engaged within the past. The more a user engages with your content, the higher your posts rank in their feed. Likes, comments, reshares, saves, and DMs show that a user has a close relationship with your account.
- User Interests – A user who interacts with posts and accounts similar to yours on their feed or explore page is more likely to see yours. These similarities vary from content type (e.g video, pictures, etc), niche, to being verified.
- User schedule – The first posts users see on their Instagram feed are the most recent and relevant posts. So, posting at the time when your ideal prospect is online is very important.
How can you make Instagram’s Algorithm work for you?
Although Instagram is always evolving, one thing remains the same – its algorithm always gives users what they want.
To thrive in a saturated Instagram marketplace you must be able to convince the algorithm that your content is relevant and wanted by your target audience.
I have put together a list of 10 evergreen ways you can make Instagram’s algorithm work for you, no matter how competitive your niche is.
1. Create Highly Valuable and Targeted content.
Every piece of content you share on Instagram should be specially tailored to your ideal audience. Your posts should appeal to them and help them solve a difficult problem.
Image source: Neil Patel
Before posting anything, ask yourself these 4 questions
- Will this educate my ideal audience
- Will it entertain them?
- Will they find this engaging?
- Will this motivate them?
If you don’t answer yes to at least one of those questions, do yourself and your target audience a favor and don’t bother posting it.
Not sure what kind of content to share with your audience? Here are 3 easy ways you can find niche relevant content ideas for Instagram
a. Stalk niche leaders.
A Niche leader/ niche influencer is an online authority who has a following of people who believe and listen to what they have to say. They have built this following by consistently giving helpful and relevant content to their audience.
You can find them, go through their old content, take note of the kind of problems they help their audience solve, and create similar content.
How to find your niche influencers on Instagram
Step 1 – Search for “your niche industry”
Step 2 – Take note of the top accounts that appear in your search
Step 3 – Filter through the top accounts and select the ones most relevant to your niche.
Step 4 – Visit the relevant accounts and click “following” to view the accounts they consider relevant
Step 5 – Visit the accounts they follow and follow any authorities in your niche.
Step 6 – Visit the accounts you followed, view their following and follow anyone else you consider an authority in your niche.
b. YouTube Search.
To get content ideas off Youtube, go on youtube and type your niche topic into the search bar and see the results youtube suggests to you. Take note of the top 10-20 videos. Also, check out the related videos.
c. Amazon Bestsellers.
- Go on the Amazon bestseller list and search for your niche topic.
- Click “look inside” and go through their table of content.
- You’ll find that the authors of those books have covered a lot of topics in your niche that your ideal target audience will find helpful. Write them down and come back to your notes when you’re out of content ideas.
To ensure that you never run out of content ideas, you can schedule your posts ahead using Instagram scheduling tools like Later, Agorapulse, Autogrammer, and Sprout Social.
2. Improve your visuals.
Before anything else, Instagram is a visual platform.
IG users don’t come online to read long blocks of text, they come for easy to consume picture and video content.
This means that your pictures, graphics, stories, and video covers need to stand out and grab the attention of your target audience.
You can achieve this by using high-resolution images and basic editing tools.
Here’s are Five places you can find free high-resolution images for your Instagram Posts
You can also create visually appealing Instagram stories, images and video covers with tools like Canva, Lightroom, Picsart, and Picmonkey.
3. Have a consistent visual presence
80% of consumers think color is a big part of brand recognition (Small Business Trends, 2020). Having a consistent visual presence on Instagram will help your audience immediately recognize your content when scrolling through their feed. This will make it easier for you to stand out and differentiate yourself from your competition.
How can you maintain a consistent visual presence?
- By using a consistent color scheme.
- By using the same set of fonts in your posts.
- By including a common element – like your brand logo – in your designs.
- By using the same 1-3 filters for all your posts
And you don’t need to be a graphics artist to do any of this.
Here’s a list of tools you can use to select and combine colors and fonts for Instagram posts.
For colors and color combinations:
For font styles and font combinations:
4. Try out Instagram’s different Post Formats and see what your audience prefers
For users to have more creative flexibility, Instagram has made multiple content formats available. These formats include:
- Single image feed posts
- Single video feed posts
- Carousels (images of videos)
- IGTV videos
To know which content format works best for your audience, create content with each format, monitor your results, and optimize your content strategy for the best performing format.
You can also find out what your competitors use more frequently, and use that.
5. Engage your audience, user-created content, and never ignore questions.
Engaging your audience will help you build a better relationship and a deeper connection with them. And when Instagram sees that your post is getting a lot of engagement, they show it to even more people.
Likes, comments, shares, tags, and saves are all actions that let Instagram know that your content is relevant to your audience.
To drive more engagements to your post, you can include a simple call to action in your captions.
- Ask them to like and share the post if they found it helpful
- Ask them to tag someone that they know would enjoy your post
- Tell them to ask you questions related to your post
- Ask them to share their own experience with a particular problem or topic that your post addresses.
And after your audience has engaged with your content, let them know that you value their effort by:
- Resharing any content featuring you on your IG stories
- Answering their questions
- Replying their comments and thanking them for their feedback.
6. Optimize your Instagram Bio.
An optimized Instagram bio helps your target audience find you easily when they search for your niche topic. It also helps anyone visiting your profile for the first time immediately know what you’re about.
If you’re not sure what to include in your Instagram bio, you can simply do this:
- Make a list of 3 leaders in your niche
- Study the structure of their IG bio ( what did they leave out? What did they include? Do they use emojis or humor? Is there a call to action?)
- Create your own version of what works and add some personal elements to it.
7. Get noticed by your niche leaders.
Niche leaders aren’t just great for inspiring content ideas. They can also help you get in front of your target audience, reach new people, drive traffic to your website, build brand awareness, and increase sales by boosting your social proof.
You only need to get them to notice you and share your content on their stories or their feed.
A niche leader won’t randomly discover your account on Instagram and share your content with their followers.
And just sending them a DM about how great they are or how you look up to them won’t work either. Because they probably get messages like that all the time.
You need to get them to know, like, and trust you the old fashioned way – by building a relationship. 98% of the top sales professionals say relationships are the most important part of generating new business. People will always do business with people they like and trust.
Here’s how you can build relationships with your Niche Leaders:
- Create a list of leaders in your niche and follow them. You can use online tools like Alexa, Buzzsumo, and Keyhole to find influencers and leaders in your niche
- Turn on notifications for their posts
- Always be one of the first people to engage with their new posts
- Leave a sincere, relevant, and detailed comment – don’t just say “nice one”
- Share their posts on your IG story with a nice caption directing your audience to their post.
Do this consistently and they’ll eventually notice you and check out your Instagram page.
After they have visited your page, liked a few posts, or followed you, you can send them a DM introducing yourself and thanking them for their content.
8. Use Instagram consistently and Post at the right time.
Instagram expert Jenn Herman confirmed that posting and ghosting will make Instagram show your posts to fewer people.
Herman said logging in at least once everyday to like, comment, scroll, and watch a story or two, will encourage Instagram to reward you with more reach.
This doesn’t mean that you should spend your entire day on Instagram. You can create a simple “daily Instagram growth schedule” that will only require you to spend 45-60 minutes daily, spread across the day.
Here’s an example:
- Morning: Engage for 15-20 minutes
- Early Afternoon: Engage for 15-20 minutes and share a valuable tip on IG stories
- Late afternoon: Engage for another 15-20 minutes
- Evening: Engage again for 15-20 minutes and post on your feed (Please note that this time should be changed depending on your optimal posting time.)
Your “optimal posting time” is that time of the day when the majority of your Instagram audience is online. You can check this using Instagram’s audience insight tool. (Note: Only Instagram business profiles have access to this tool.)
Here’s how to check your optimal posting time using the audience insight tool.
Step 1: Visit your Instagram profile and click “Insights”
Step 2: In the “Overview” section, select followers
This will take you to your “follower breakdown”
Here, You’ll be shown your
- Total followers for a specified time period
- Total number of un-followers
- Top locations your followers are located
- Their Age range
- Their Gender distribution
- Their most active times for each day of the week and post at those times
Step 3: Take note of what time your followers are most active on each day of the week and post at then.
9. Use only relevant hashtags
Instagram hashtags are still a great way to get more reach and engagements on your posts. A post with at least one Instagram hashtag averages 12.6% more engagement than posts without a hashtag.
The only problem with hashtags is that you can get punished for using them the wrong way. I.e. by using broken hashtags or using one hashtag too many times.
A Broken hashtag is one that Instagram has identified as inappropriate. Some innocent hashtags also fall under this category because they have been spammed with inappropriate photos. They have subsequently been blocked by Instagram (temporarily or indefinitely).
Many Instagram accounts get punished every day for using broken hashtags. This is why some business owners have decided to stop using hashtags altogether.
But you don’t have to go completely cold turkey with hashtags. If you follow these 4 rules you can easily avoid any hashtag related punishment.
Rule 1 – Avoid these banned hashtags
Rule 2 – Only use hashtags that are relevant to you.
Here are 3 types of Relevant Hashtags you can use on your Instagram posts
- Niche hashtags – These are hashtags that people searching for your particular service or niche would be looking at. A few Examples are #seoexpert #webdeveloper #facebokexpert, etc. You can find niche relevant hashtags by going through the hashtags your niche leaders use.
- Community hashtags – These are hashtags used by a community on Instagram. Popular brands and communities usually have their own hashtags. And if you spot a community whose audience would be interested in your content, you can use their community hashtags in your posts. Example – CanonUK’s community hashtag on Instagram is #live for the story.
- Local Hashtags – These are location-dependent hashtags. Example – Londonpartyphotographer #LAPizzaPlace
Rule 3 – Don’t try to include more than 30 hashtags in your post
Rule 4 – Do not repeat hashtags very often. Instead, you can space them out and only repeat a hashtag or group of hashtags after every 5-10 posts.
10. Avoid action blocks and shadowbans.
As soon as Instagram notices any “spammy” activity on your account, you’ll either be punished with a shadowban or an action block.
What is an Instagram shadowban?
A Shadowban on Instagram is a punishment that prevents people who do not already follow you from discovering your content on their explore page.
This means that when you post using hashtags, people checking the posts under those hashtags will not see your post.
Instagram does not notify you when you’ve been shadowbanned. Guess that’s why it’s called “Shadow” banning.
What causes shadowbanning?
1. Spammy activities like posting, commenting, engaging, or following people too quickly.
2. Your account is repeatedly reported by Instagram users.
3. Using third-party Instagram growth tools and bots
4. Using broken hashtags
How to check if your account is shadowbanned – Without any extra tools.
If you notice a sudden drop in your average post reach and engagement, follow these two simple steps to find out if you have been shadowbanned.
- Post an image with a hashtag that isn’t very popular. (This hashtag shouldn’t have too many posts on it so you can tell if your content is banned and not just hidden by competition).
- After posting, ask three to five people who don’t follow you to search the hashtag.
If none of them sees your post in the hashtag results, you’re probably shadowbanned.
How to remove an Instagram Shadowban
- Backoff from posting for a couple of days. 3 days should be enough.
- Delete all hashtags from your recent posts
- Contact Instagram.
What is an action block?
Instagram action blocks prevent you from performing basic tasks like liking, commenting, following, or unfollowing.
Unlike shadow bans, Instagram will notify you when you’ve been given an action block.
Action blocks are caused by “spammy” activities like liking, commenting, following or unfollowing too many times in a short time frame.
Getting a shadowban or action block can put you on the Instagram algorithm blacklist.
And that’s the last thing your business needs. So, play fair!
Get moving and start growing!
You don’t have to start implementing all 10 tips at once. You can start with one or two and gradually work your way up.
The most important thing is that you start now.
Pick one growth strategy you can implement today and get moving.